Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Walk the Walk

Did anyone else read this article? It is about how many parents won't allow their children to walk to school (or other places), even when the walk is as short as a block or two. Included in the article is a bit about a mom who let her 10 year old son walk a mile to soccer practice. Not only did several people call 911 to report a child walking alone, but the officer who found the kid drove him to the park (before chewing out the mom). I'm knocked out that (a) multiple people found the sight of a kid walking alone worrisome enough to report it to police, and (b) they called 911, the emergency number. The kid was 10, not 4.

This article busts into the fantasy I have had since we moved to this house that my children will get to walk themselves to school. We live 5 blocks from our local elementary. Of course I will be walking Ada to kindergarten, but will I be expected to walk her to and from school until she graduates from 8th grade? When Ian and Mira are ready for kindergarten Ada will be entering 4th grade. At what point can she escort them without me along for the stroll? Why couldn't a 4th grader walk her younger siblings to school?

The other thing that really bugs me is that refusing to let kids walk to local schools is an environmental nightmare. The article may have picked out really extreme cases to make a point about modern, fear-based parenting, but wow. A mom let her kid walk the five houses to a friend's place, only to have the kid driven home at the end of the play-date. Really? Driven? The host mom was what - too busy? Too lazy? to walk the length of five houses? (ok, so she could have dropped her off on her way to the grocery store, but really - five houses away?) All these parents who drive their children to school because they are afraid to let them walk are contributing to greenhouse gases out of fear that something will happen if they don't.

As a kid I walked to my best friend's house, which was 5 blocks away. But we also had the freedom to wander the neighborhood, from the residential streets right around our houses to the busy business strip near by and the even busier corner with the convenience store. I wasn't wandering the sidewalks alone at 5 or 6, but by 10 I had a fair measure of freedom. And - I lived in Los Angeles, not exactly small town America. Not to mention that my parents were pretty strict when compared with many of my friends and classmates.

Where you live, do kids walk to school? Do you consider it safe for children to walk alone to the park or school? How old is old enough to walk alone? How far is close enough?


  1. I walked to school without my mother starting when I was 6, either with my sister or alone. When I was in Grade 3 or 4 my sister and I were paid to walk another little girl home from school. It would have been 5 or 6 blocks, I think.

    I fully intend to let my daughter walk by herself or with friends, depending on where we live in relation to the school.

  2. We live two (2!!!) blocks from our neighborhood pool and I can't tell you how many of our neighbors drive there. It is a big pet peeve of mine. Oddly they don't want their children to walk alone there but then they let them swim alone.

    And this is in a town where there has been one murder in four years (and it was a husband who killed his wife). So no, it is not surprising to me to hear that people don't let their kids walk to school.

  3. I blogged about this at my fitness site today - a school that BANS kids from walking or biking to school. SAD.

    My daughter would love to be able to walk or bike to/from school alone, and I would like to allow it. But there is one troublesome intersection on the route, so I'm not comfortable with it yet. Maybe when she is about 10 (I read that's when kids are savvy enough about traffic safety).

  4. Can't say what I'll do with my not-yet-born children. It will probably depend on where we live. Right now we live in a very safe place, but our street doesn't have sidewalks.

    I was never allowed to go anywhere alone ever, and even now my mother isn't too happy when she finds out I've gone somewhere alone ("Can't your husband go on the business trip with you?" "He can wait in your office until you're done at night."). LOL

    Quite a contrast to DH who walked to school alone (15 minutes, including crossing a major street and several smaller streets), including in the dead of winter, starting in 1st grade.

    When my husband's little sisters were young teens, they babysat a kid who lived across the street. Literally across the street, as in the house that you see when you look out the front window. At first, their mom (DH's stepmom, a very different person from DH's mom) would watch them walk on the way there. When they were on their way home she would make them call her so that she could watch them walk home -- probably a 20-second journey. The restrictions weren't quite as strict in daylight or if there were two or more kids together, and by middle school the kids could walk the 3 blocks to and from school if accompanied by a peer/sibling.

    All of my MIL's paranoia was quite ironic when one of his sisters was sexually assaulted at the park (5 minutes from home). She had been there with a friend in the daylight then headed home, and at dusk she realized she'd left something at the park. Knowing it was against the rules but not wanting to get in trouble for leaving her belongings, she went back to the park alone to retrieve it, and a man jumped out of the bushes and assaulted her. That was years ago, and I still haven't figured out whether the lesson is that MIL was right to be paranoid all along, or that bad things sometimes happen and no amount of rules can truly protect them.

  5. Sigh.

    I am with you on this, but since moving to our ghetto address I have had to call the police twice to come and claim an unattended 2 year old who was wandering (in only a diaper) on a busy street. I think the problem is that stupid parents cause so much alarm with their ineptitude that status conscious parents don't want to be lumped in with them. If letting a kid walk alone is a judgement call, they would rather not take responsibility for making the decision. Personally, if I could walk everywhere, I would and because we walk a lot I know that my daughter will understand how to be safe. Maybe, the root of all this is that adults never walk anymore. I guess it would seem scary to let your kid go a few blocks on foot, when you NEVER do it yourself.

  6. That's just scary! We live very close to the whole school system and I fully intend on letting my kids walk to school on their own once they are old enough.

  7. We live in a very rural town, right on the county line, and several miles from where my kids attend school, so they ride the bus. But when they're home, they are pretty much free to go where they please, be it on bikes or walking, just so they tell us where they're headed.

    but when we lived downtown, walking even a few blocks could be a real risky endeavor. So many crowded streets, with people driving way too fast, for it to be considered safe. And sidewalks are not maintained like they used to be either.

    Sad . . .

  8. The kids in our area walk to and from school starting at what looks like seven or eight - but they walk in packs. - Nara

  9. My children live .5 mile & .6 mile from the school and are taking the bus. One child is almost 10yrs and the other is 14yrs. The school prefers it that way.
    My children however walk to the school all the time but only together. Actually if the 14yr old girl wants to go alone that's fine but only with a cell phone.
    I can't help the way I feel about it. God gave me these lives to take care of so that's what i'm doing. I was married to a sheriff for 10 years so i'm a little over protective.

  10. This is Ezra's first year of walking to school from a sitters. (4th grade) He walks about 4 blocks and then on to a pedestrian overpass. I have to admit that it worried me at first because some parts of N. Portland can get a little shady so we got him a small cell to be used for emergencies. So far it's been great because it gives him a sense of responsibility as well as pride in knowing that he is doing something good for the environment. : )

  11. I want to give my children freedom to roam, freedom I had. But since the man living in the house across the street was just hauled off by the DEA for selling drugs I'm more hesitant. And no, we don't live in the big city - we are in a very rural area.

    It's quite the quandary.

  12. I was walking 3-4 city blocks to a school bus by the time I was in 1st grade (in Asia though, much safer). By the time I was 10, I would frequently walk the 3/4 miles to school if I had afterschool activities or otherwise missed the bus. I can't remember anyone on my block ever being attended to by parents as we ran up and down the block to each others' homes every day after school. And are you friggin' kidding me about the police officer?

    How sad the way times have changed.

  13. Tough one. He isn't walking there yet and I'm not sure when we'll let him (though we walk to the childminders who looks after his sister who walks him to school except on the days when supermum is at home who can then walk him herself. That's too much detail, I know). The main issue (aside from irrational fear) is the heavy traffic and terrible driving in our area, plus dudelet's lackadaisical roadsense. When he can cross the road safely, I guess we'll let him walk.

  14. I still remember the first time I let my then 9yo son ride his bike to a friend's house, 6 blocks away. I walked him out to the street then ran to the phone to remind the friend's mom that he had to call the second he arrived.

    From there, we moved on to letting him walk on his won to school in the morning (3 blocks) and the to walking home alone when I would be there to meet him.

    Last summer, I allowed him to go with a friend to a candy store about a 15 minute walk from our house (when I called the friend's dad for permission, he said, "as long as they are eating the candy at your house, it's fine with me.")

    Now, at 11, I let him take our little dog out for a walk for an hour or more. The next step will be letting him come home from school to an empty house.

    I don't believe that it's any more dangerous than they used to be, just that we live in a more cautious world. And, I have to add that it's good that I co-parent with someone who wishes to allow the kids more freedom, or I would be much more reluctant.

    And I do believe these little bits of incremental independence are important. How else do we expect them to grow up?

  15. I agree with Laurie - incremental independence is so important. Kids need to have lives that are not always monitored and supervised by parents or teachers. And please let's remember that the "stranger danger" and missing child movement was a moral panic which boiled most furiously during the Reagan years, but which (you can look this up) had no basis in fact.

    Often there are several kids in the neighborhood who can easily walk together, too. Portland used to have a Block Home program ... gone now.